For some, a crackling fire is a bit of ambiance on a winter day.

For others, it’s a primary source of heat for their homes.

And for still others, that crackling fire is the consumer end point for a significant source of income.

A project at West Virginia University seeks to give the Mountain State’s firewood industry the boost it needs to be more substantial and sustainable through a “Friends of Firewood” network.

“Currently firewood producers in West Virginia provide a valuable and useful forest product to thousands of domestic fuel wood users, but they operate in an informal, virtually undocumented economy,” said Dave McGill, a WVU Extension specialist and professor of forest resources management.

McGill and his partners on the project will engage firewood producers using peer-to-peer networks and educational opportunities to promote healthy forests and a healthy firewood industry.

“Fuel wood is used by nearly one of seven households as a primary heat source in many rural counties in West Virginia,” McGill explained. “It’s important to this informal economy that firewood producers assure a high quality product and maintain vigilance related to forest health issues.”

The process may also yield some significant environmental benefits. Firewood has been identified by state and federal agencies as a prime haven and means of transport for forest pests like the Emerald Ash Borer. The proposed network will educate firewood producers using a best management practices approach.

The West Virginia Division of Forestry, the West Virginia Forestry Association, and WVU personnel in the Appalachian Hardwood Center will develop a list of firewood dealers who will then be survey to document the size and types of their operations, levels of awareness of forest health issues, firewood safety issues, and attitudes related to potential increased regulation of firewood.

The program will also develop a series of training sessions related to firewood hygiene and safety. These will be carried out in dispersed counties around the state. Training sessions will include: chainsaw safety, firewood best management practices, wood identification, firewood hygiene as it relates to pests and diseases associated with various species, and firewood quality.

McGill and his colleagues will also create a professional network for firewood producers’ network, the “Friends of Firewood,” to supply associate producers with continued information, training, and business support.

Graduate research assistant Liz Basham is the Friends of Firewood project coordinator. Her role is to serve as liaison between the project coordinators and project participants, facilitate educational workshops, and develop program assessment tools.

Forest operations extension specialist Ben Spong of the AHC is working with the team to evaluate firewood supply chains.

“We are aiming to develop an understanding of the broad array of firewood supply and value chain types to help firewood producers develop safer and more efficient business practices,” Spong said.

“While little is known about the contribution of the firewood industry to the West Virginia economy, firewood production is widespread and is carried out by hard working, entrepreneurial individuals,” McGill said. “It’s in our interest to facilitate financially efficient, safe, and environmentally sound production of domestic fuel wood and to develop a productive working relationship with the individuals and companies that produce this important resource.”

For more information, contact McGill at 304-293-5930 or



CONTACT: Dave McGill; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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